The letters and diaries of Lieutenant Philip R. Woodcock
121st Regiment, New York State Infantry
"Upton's Regulars"
September 4, 1862-November 9, 1865

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Dirty Soldier

Over the last month as I've been reading Philip's letters, I've noticed a common thing through all of them--they are pages and pages long.  His longing for home is evident and his ability to describe scenes of battle, appearance, meals and landscape have been so vivid.  The continuation of his letter of the 7th is no different.  After he has told Roby of a delicious breakfast, he goes on to tell her about how his appetite is not very good "especially when in the dirt ~"  And now, the continuation of Oct. 7th, 1862:

"I tell you Roby I look some different than when at home [.] I am pretty dirty though as clean as the officers ~ & I am badly burned up, hair shaved short, beard all over my face ~ there is not a razor in the Regt ~ I tell you that I have seen tough times ~ many a time I have laid down on the march in the Dust 3 or 4 inches deep so tired I could hardly stir sometimes going 3 or 4 days without washing my hands & face & drank water out of Rivers Creeks & often right of the Road where thousands of Soldiers had passed through [.] I tell you Roby Soldiers life is a hard & rough one but after all I like it [.]  I have stood it much better than I thought I should ~ when I see what it was we claim ~ a small share or those terrible fights in Maryland though we did no any very hard fighting still they tried our pluck some ~ we had to hold a pass in the Mountains ~& Support Batteries..Gen McClellan said if the 121st would hold Cramptons Gap 24 hours the battle would be ours & we done it on Sunday night [.]  We was exposed to a heavy fire but it done but little Damage to us ~ it was pleasant to hear the heavy Shot & Shell as they whistled over our heads & the little bullets ~ that was nice ~ We all know what fighting is now [.]"

At this early point in their careers, the 121st is still new to battle.  It's only been one month since their trip down south and it still seems quite exciting to him.

"We have seen two very large Armies engaged in terrible conflict combat & you can't form no idea of how it looks ~ no description that you see in papers begins to describe it but O what sights I saw after the Battle ~ Thousands of wounded & dead & dying lying in heaps & singly & in every possible shape & manner but we soon got used to that ~ I dare not tell you what sickening sights I saw ~ it would make you sick of war [.]"

And of course, early news of George, years before his injury:

"If you have seen Burneys Letter you will know that I came across George at Sharpsburg & you better believe I was glad to see him [.] I ran 1 one mile (sic) when I heard where he was ~ the quickest I ever traveled  ~ he has seen awful tough times but he and Bruce came out all right ~ they have been in every battle since July 8th & Capt Youngs & all the boys told me that Geo did fight terrible (that means well!) that he went ahead of the Tanks & loaded & fired as fast as possible [.] The[re] was but 8 men in his Company [.] I was over there a week last Sunday & he & Bruce staid over night a week ago to day ~ he had several narrow escapes but all sound yet ~ he is about 4 miles from here but enough of war~"

His letter at this point switches to the practical side being a soldier:

"I want you to have your Likeness taken & send to me & one to George ~ Our Knapsacks have all been Rifled & all little valuables stolen [.]   I had things & little Extras &c that I would not have take $20 for but I expect they are all gone ~ My Sword has been Stolen too [.] I would not have taken $10 for it ~ your likeness has gone with a large Supply of Postage Stamps also a nice Portfolio with letters in &c gone so you see, you must send me your likeness with little George [.] O how I would like to see him & you but it will be a long time yet I suppose [.] I want you to knit or make me some sort of a woolen night Cap that will not be very heavy ~ you can send it in an Envelope [.] We have a little frost mornings & a fellow wakes up & finds a very cold dew is frost on his hair that does not feel good but you ought to see us when it rains ~ it is fun then [.] I have a nice Rubber blanket but I have to share it with Parsons but our little Shelter tents came this morning & that will help us a good deal ~ for about 3 weeks I slept out in the open air except one night & then I slept in an Ice house..."

The practical dealings of family goes on and on..

"wrote a letter to Uncle Asa..."
"written 5 or 6 to you..."
"I want you to write to me every day..."
"don't forget the likenesses..."
"& your letters--make them longer & two Sheets..."
"wish Fannie & Charlie (much joy) for me..."

On and on and on.  He concludes with news that his "Captain is about to make some important changesand that "he complimented me very highly 2 or 3 times before the Company & yesterday he told me that I was one of the Best Sergeants he had..."  And towards the end of the letter, finally a word about Abraham Lincoln:

"We had a grand Review the other day [.] Gen. McClellan & Old Abe visited us about 20,000 of us ~ it was a grand thing but you must have read of it probably before this but I have a chance for this to go now & I must send ~ now write to me as quick as possible & write often & send papers for we have nothing to read [.] I must close [.] Kiss the Baby for me & remember me [.]
                                                     Yours faithfully & Affectionately
                                                      P.R. Woodcock

Give my love to all & tell them to write & tell me all the Baby does & how he acts 

A long and newsy letter.  


151 years ago today, June 24th, it was "cool & cloudy Brigade inspection 10 A.M. Capt Hale Wrote a letter to Art Burnham Skirmish Drill & Brigade Dress parade Rough on us nowadays"

Tomorrow Philip is on Antietam Creek!

Hope to see you then!

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